Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hiking in Denali National Park Part 1 - Wildlife

68231 - Goshawk
 Note that I was without internet access during the trip to Valdez and I did not have time to write anyway. So now the plan is to work on getting the blog back up to date over the next few days.

Hiking the trails of Denali National Park proved to be a small adventure, and I had time to explore three different trails during my visit. Rock Creek is a 2.5 mile trail that meanders through forests of spruce and aspen trees and was colored with many varieties of wildflowers and grasses, as well as mostly yellow shades of tundra. Walking on tundra is like walking on 6-inch thick sponge, and it's amazing how it springs back to its original position after each footstep. The stuff would probably make a comfortable place to drop a sleeping bag to camp for the night.

The first part of the trail I only saw plants, grasses and flowers, and no wildlife at all. I will show some photos of the wildflowers later in a separate post. About 45 minutes into my hike I walked up on a goshawk that had killed a snowshoe hare and was having lunch. The biggest surprise was that he allowed me to approach him very closely and sit on the tundra and take photos for about 20 minutes.

68243 - Goshawk

68116 -  - Goshawk
 Another fun hike was a the Horseshoe Lake trail, which features a 250 foot elevation drop down to a lake surrounded by a spruce forest. This photo shows the view of the lake from above.

67130 - Horseshoe Lake
 There is a huge beaver lodge on the edge of the lake and we saw a couple beavers across the lake gathering tree branches to bring back to the lodge. We waited quietly in the woods at the edge of the lake and then photographed them as they went by carrying the tree branches. We had hoped to get photos of them chipping away at a tree such as the one in the 2nd photo below, but we never saw them out of the water.

7145 - Beaver

67137 - Horseshoe Lake

There is a hike at Savage River at mile post 15 near the ranger station that afforded us quite a few photo opps in just a short while. We saw an arctic ground squirrel, a full family of ptarmigans including a male and female and about 15 chicks, plus a coyote that tried his best to make a meal of the ptarmigan chicks or mew gull chicks that were in the same area.

68377 - Arctic Ground Squirrel

68673 - Male Ptarmigan

68861 - Mew Gull

68626 - Ptarmigan Chick

68867 - Male Ptarmigan hiding in flowers

 When a coyote approaches, you can usually tell where he is because the nesting birds in the area will dive bomb the coyote in attempt to keep him away from their nests and chicks. We witnessed this and it was fascinating to watch. The coyote was stalking the chicks directly in front of us across the creek while the ptarmigans were running to the left with their chicks to hide them from the coyote. Then the mew gulls were flying in from left to right and attacking the coyote to try and scare him off. They finally succeeded and the coyote retreated across the stream and up into the thick brush on the mountainside across the creek. We laughed as some startled hikers on the other side of the creek saw the coyote suddenly pop out of nowhere and pass right in front of them on his way up the mountainside. Below are photos of all the players in the scenario I described above:

68387 - Mew Gull Attacking Coyote

68800 - Female Ptarmigan with chicks
If you look closely, you can see 4 chicks in this photo. There were at least 3 or 4 more chicks under the mother's wings and out of view.

68800 - Female Ptarmigan with chicks


  1. What a beautiful post, as usual. I love coming here! Thanks! :))

  2. This is a very beautiful set of photographs and and the wonder of it all is that there is an excellent set of works to go with them. I can say that there are no favorites but if I had to choose a picture that sets this post apart from others I would say the felled tree along the lake would be it. That leaves the imagination to work on what might be there at the lake or in the vicinity. Your work is really nice.

  3. Oh my gosh......incredible images starting with the intense eye of the hawk and continuing on through. Just so much to see. Must be a trip of a lifetime. Being able to watch beavers working on their lodge must have been exciting.

  4. Hi Tim,
    Now I can understand better your excitement before leaving. This is truly the place to be for a nature photographer! I can not even which pictures I love most. They are all fantastic encounter and marvelous shots! I guess you enjoy it!

  5. Absolutely breathtaking!!
    I have no other words.

  6. This is why we all like what we do... despite some field difficulties, we achieve a certain point where all the efforts is worth... These photos are a proof of commitment, effort and efficiency. As simple as that! Congratulations.

  7. Great series Tim, but I think the head on shot of the Goshawk (that close) would definitely get my heart rate up. Well done.

  8. What a great time!!! Thank you for sharing the images and experience.